TOS Crew: Educaching

I remember, when I was a kid, we’d make up treasure hunts. We’d put some sort of treasure in a jar and bury it in the backyard, or hide it somewhere in the house, make up clues leading to the treasure, and then hide all the clues except for the starter.

Geocaching is sort of like those treasure hunts of my childhood, only better, involving use of a GPS device — what could be better than pushing buttons? With nearly a million geocache locations around the world, there’s a lot of treasure out there to find! (Use an internet search engine to find out more about geocaching, and locations in your area, if this is the first you’ve heard of it and you want to know more.)

Educaching takes the concept a step further. Jason Hubbard and the staff at SDG Creations, Ltd., have worked out a GPS based curriculum for teachers, aimed at grades 4-8, but suitable for multi-level learning and whole families working together. You need to have a GPS device that meets certain minimum requirements (a rocker keypad or joystick, waypoint averaging, decent battery life, and durable waterproof), bought separately.

We learned to use a GPS device when our homeschool science class studied wilderness survival. We used the gadget for the class exercises, and for the three-day camp that followed the course, where we put our new-learned skills to use, collecting water, building a fire with one match, making debris hut shelters, and more.

We used the GPS for some months longer, tracking our progress on Volkswalks (see http://www.ava.org for more information on their organized walking events) but eventually the GPS took up residence in our “techno” drawer and was sort of forgotten. (I mean, we knew it was there, felt a little guilty at having spent so much money–even though it was a class expense, and we certainly used it during the class and exercises–but really not finding a reason to take it out of the drawer and use it.)

The arrival of the Educaching e-book for review by the TOS Crew changed things. All of a sudden the GPS device was needed! Liberated from its cubbyhole, its face shone with promise and adventure… only the batteries were dead from long inactivity.

One new set of batteries later, the adventure began.

Well, not quite.

I held my breath after reading the introductory section of the e-book, detailing the required GPS features–our device was several years old. Would it measure up?

(Side note: I doubly bless our science teacher. She made a group purchase, for the class, after doing a lot of research on GPS units. She got a good price–though it seemed spendy to us at the time–and as a result even our older model had the features we needed for educaching.)

To summarize the experience, educaching is sort of like any of the science experiments you might find in a textbook. Sometimes it works better than at other times. It’s a good idea to really know how to work with your GPS device before you try to do a lesson. I strongly urge you (unless you’re already very familiar with the workings of your GPS) to go through the preliminary exercises in the teacher training, and make up additional exercises if you have to, before actually hiding boxes and hoping your students can find them (for one example).

The Educaching manual is well organized and easy to use. It begins by defining terms and explaining GPS features, as well as laying the foundation for using educaching with students. (Homeschoolers don’t necessarily need to get a principal’s permission to hide “treasures” on a school campus, but if you’re working outside your own yard you’ll need to get permission from anyone who owns the land where you’re hiding your caches.)

In the teacher training section, you’ll find information on promoting teamwork, as well as a step-by-step plan for introducing GPS use to your students.

A series of 20 lesson plans follows, divided by ability (beginner, intermediate, advanced, depending on your familiarity with using a GPS device as well as the time required, start to finish, to complete the lesson). Learning to use a GPS is a sort of by-product of these lessons. I mean, you use the GPS device to set up (if you’re the teacher) and find (if you’re the student) stations where the students do educational activities: observe, measure, calculate, record, etc. The lessons are math- and science-based, and align with national standards. The GPS is not the focus of the lesson, it’s merely a tool that adds interest and excitement.

For example, learning about the different sorts of triangles can be sort of ho-hum. You (if you’re the student) draw them on the board. You click on them in a computer program. You color them on a worksheet. (Are we done yet?)

Or… you lay out a giant triangle (right, equilateral, isoceles, or scalene) in a field. You have to figure out how to achieve the prescribed angles, how to make sure the sides are the right lengths. When your triangle is perfect, you use your GPS to record the waypoints where the vertices lie. Then go inside and accurately record the location of your triangle on a map! It’s a little more time consuming, perhaps, but it is definitely hands-on learning.

Reproducible field sheets are provided for each lesson plan, for your students to record their findings and calculations.

Most of the lessons require a fair amount of teacher prep time, for you’re laying out a course, after all, filling containers with materials or clues or problems to solve and recording coordinates for your students to follow.

The book concludes by addressing practical questions, such as how many GPS devices might be needed for a class (for our family, that means one, shared by everyone, in part because that’s what we have), and how to write a grant request to purchase GPS devices for a school. (Hmm, I wonder if our homeschool co-op might want to look into that idea?) “Beyond the Basics” is the final section, going beyond the lessons with ideas for expanding an educaching program, including forming a club. The authors say from the start that the Educaching book is intended as a jumping-off place; the included lessons are just the beginning of the adventure.

For example, we’re starting to plan summer activities. On a group campout, how about a treasure hunt leading up to a meal? Hide various canned goods and have students add each can to the pot as it’s found, a sort of variation on Stone Soup? The girls think it’s got possibilities…

Go to the Educaching website for more information. Here you’ll find an informational video, answers to frequently asked questions, and ordering information.

The 116-page Educaching Teacher Manual is available at the website for $32 plus shipping and handling. It includes a CD of reproducible student forms. You can also download samples at the website to get an idea of a lesson.

To see more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews of Educaching, click here.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a free PDF download copy of Educaching to TOS Crew reviewers who already owned or were willing to purchase a GPS device to use with the book. TOS Crew reviewers receive no monetary compensation for using products and writing their impressions.

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